Let’s turn plastic trash into treasure

I was walking from my office last week when an inspirational sight caught my eye. A young man with a sack dangling over his shoulders dashed to the middle of the road, grabbed two small plastic papers that were lying there then ran away just before a red Honda bike sped by.

That young man understood what the vast majority of the middle and upper class still don’t fully appreciate — trash is treasure. While the middle and upper classes roll in the plastic money of credit cards, the lower classes that the young man belongs to, sometimes roll in a different kind of plastic money. For them, plastic trashed is a source of treasure.

In picking the plastic papers, the young man was cleaning the environment but not in the usual ‘clean up exercise’ fashion that I totally dislike. This is when people converge for a couple of hours to clean waste, only for more to accumulate barely hours or days later. Instead, we should show the populace how to improve their livelihoods through waste and you may never need clean up exercises again!

A UNEP report released last year reveals that about 280 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and only a small percentage is recycled. Recycling contributes to environmental sustainability even as we enhance livelihoods.

Ecopost, RH Devani and a host of other plastic production companies are already manufacturing plastic products on a large scale. Their businesses maintain a healthy bottom line even as they create green jobs and contribute to environmental conservation.

There exists a huge market both locally and internationally for plastic poles. Their durability, affordability and sustainability make them preferable to wooden and cement poles. Highways in East Africa are already using plastic poles for their signage. Part of the more than 400-kilometre long Aberdare fence comprises of plastic poles. Moreover, just imagine the impact of a ruling by the central and county governments requiring that the fencing of land under their jurisdictions be done using plastic poles!

We can take up similar initiatives and begin rolling in green money that stems from plastic waste. You can start by establishing an open yard where waste can be deposited by vendors. Kenya generates more than 10,000 metric tonnes of waste on a daily basis. Twenty per cent of this waste is plastic that ends up in landfills, creating an environmental hazard.

Once a critical mass of plastic has been accumulated, it can be supplied to dealers at Sh25 to Sh40 per kilo. Those selling it in tons usually buy it for half this amount. This is then used together with sawdust as raw material for manufacturing high value plastic products. Sawdust is readily available at Sh5 per kilo or for free.

 The same amount needed to purchase a decent car is enough to purchase preliminary machinery for processing plastic waste into malleable material that can be used to manufacture not just poles, but also plastic furniture, beams, water tanks and a host of other marketable products. Think green, act green!